Archive for the ‘History of Tile’ Category

  • Don’t Forget About Porcelain Tile!

    Date: 2013.08.28 | Category: History of Tile, Tips and Advice | Response: 0

    There are times when a proper porcelain tile is simply a better choice than ceramic. With a water absorption rate of less than .5 percent, porcelain tiles are available in glazed or unglazed varieties.

    This lower water absorption rate means that porcelain is a very durable choice for floor surfaces and areas of high wear and hard knocks. Because the material is much harder and denser compared to most ordinary ceramic tile, its usefulness in these areas is pretty clear. The dense, hard surface of porcelain can be polished to a high gloss, creating a shine without the need of a glaze.

    Here’s the thing: porcelain and ceramic aren’t actually different types of tile. They’re actually both ceramic tile. Porcelain tile is simply fired for longer and at higher temperatures that what we consider ceramic. At a glance, you really can’t tell the difference between a proper porcelain tile and a proper ceramic tile.

    Courtesy of

    For durability, porcelain wins. It’s a combination of the higher kilning temperature and a higher concentration of feldspar. The resulting density can be a pain to cut and fabricate at the DIY-level. Ceramic tile is quite a bit easier to cut — by hand, wet tile saw, or snap tile cutter.

    Generally speaking, porcelain tends to be a bit more brittle compared to ceramic, so exercise care if you’re going to attempt cutting it yourself.

    Here’s an installation tip: Be sure to allow enough time for your thin-set to dry before applying any grout. Because porcelain absorbs so little moisture, the only place where the water content from thin set can escape is through the grout joints. Allow at least 24 hours before grouting. This will allow excess moisture enough time to evaporate. Trapped moisture can cause a host of problems with your installation.

    Note as well: typical ready-mix adhesives are not recommended for porcelain due to the material’s weight and density. Only use adhesives specially formulated for use with porcelain.

  • Help Catalog Guastavino Vaults

    Date: 2013.04.30 | Category: History of Tile | Response: 0

    MIT professor John Ochsendorf wants your help — and he wants you to spend more time looking up.

    He is the curator of Palaces for the People: Guastavino and America’s Great Public Places at the National Building Museum. Patented in 1885 by architect and builder Rafael Guastavino, Guastavino tile is a technique for the construction of self-supporting arches and architectural vaults. Still in use today, the technique consists of layering thin ceramic tiles on top of one another and resulted in stunningly beautiful arches and vaults. If you’ve ever traveled to the famous Bilmore Estate in Asheville, NC and looked up in the main entrance hall, you’ve seen a Guastavino vaulted ceiling.

    There are scores of undiscovered public and private spaces that have Guastavino vaulted ceilings, and Ochsendorf is crowdsourcing the effort in conjunction with NPR to make the work of Rafael and Rafael Gaustavino better known outside of architectural circles. If you discover a Gaustavino vault in your travels (and there’s lots of them out there), here’s how you can help document them:

    • Take a photo. Even a smartphone photo will do.
    • Submit that photo to NPR’s Flickr pool and John will add to the master list.
    • Join the conversation on FLickr to discuss potential finds.

    Now, get searching!

    Photo credit: City Hall subway station in NYC, MIT Architecture School

  • Know Your Ceramic Tile Types

    Date: 2013.04.17 | Category: History of Tile | Response: 0

    We introduced you to a brief history of tile and an explanation of how tiles are manufactured in last week’s post, but we did things a bit backwards.

    Ceramic tiles are generally manufactured by a process called dust-pressing where nearly dry clay powder is compressed between two metal dies. Commonly available ceramic tile types used in residential and commercial installations manufactured using dust-pressing are: encaustic, geometric, and mosaic.

    Encaustic feature a pattern inlaid into the body of tile using a variety of different colors of clay. They may be glazed or unglazed, with the inlay ranging in depth from 1/8″ to as deep as 1/4″. They were immensely popular in the 13th century and experienced a renaissance during the Gothic Revival era. A number of companies in the United States were producing encaustic tile during this period, including American Encaustic Tiling Company. The company closed its doors in 1935.
    Minton Encaustic Tile
    Geometric tiles are actually a single-colored variation of encaustic tiles. Based on the geometric segments of a six-inch square, they are typically rectangular, square or triangular in shape, assembled together to form often elaborate repeating geometric patterns. They are well suited for decorative borders, but can be used in floor designs as well. The variety of designs that can be created by mixing colors, sizes, and colors of geometric tiles is quite dizzying!
    Tile patterns
    Mosaic tiles Smaller versions of geometric tiles, typically no larger than 2.25″, and available in a wide selection of shapes: square, oblong, pentagonal, and trapezoidal, for instance. They are available as unglazed (in either solid or variegated colors, often with a matte finish) or glazed in virtually any color imaginable. Occasionally, single tiles are fabricated using a mold to imitate the mortar lines separating traditional mosaic tile.
    Decoupage and Mosaic Tile

  • How Ceramic Tile Is Made [Video]

    Date: 2013.04.09 | Category: Custom Tile, History of Tile, Ideas and Inspiration | Response: 0

    The process for making ceramic tile hasn’t really changed much in over 4,000 years. Beautiful and intricate tiled surfaces have been discovered in the oldest Egyptian pyramids, in the ruins of Babylon, and across the ancient world, a testament to the durability and longevity of fired tile. Ceramic tiles are nothing more than clay that has been fired at extremely high temperatures in a kiln, a technology that was first discovered by ancient Egyptians and refined over the centuries. Each type of clay possesses a unique combination of special properties such as plasticity, hardness and lightness, as well as color and texture, which makes some clays better suited for one kind of ceramic than another. The correct clay mixture needed for a particular purpose can be created by blending clays and adding other materials, but using the wrong type of clay can result in expensive production problems such as crazing (the formation of tiny cracks in a tile glaze) or warping of the tile itself.

    There are several methods used for making ceramic tiles: extrusion; compaction or dust-pressing; cutting from a sheet of clay; or molded in a wooden or metal frame. Quarry tiles are extruded, but most ceramic floor tiles, including traditional encaustic, geometric and ceramic “mosaic” tiles are made from refined and blended ceramic powders using the compaction method, known as dust-pressing. Once formed, tiles are dried slowly and evenly to avoid warpage, then fired in a special kiln that controls high, even heat at temperatures up to 1200°C (or approximately 2500°F) for 30-40 hours. Higher temperatures produce denser tiles with harder glazes. Most ceramic tiles require only one firing to achieve low porosity and become vitrified or grass-like, but some, especially highly decorated tiles, are fired more than once. Non-vitreous and semi-vitreous tiles are fired at lower temperatures and are much more porous.

    The modern tile industry was advanced by Herbert Minton in 1843 when he revived the lost art of encaustic tile-making in England. The industry was further revolutionized in the 1840s by the “dust-pressing” method which consisted of compressing nearly dry clay between two metal dies. Dust-pressing replaced tile-making by hand with wet clay, and facilitated mechanization of the tile-making industry.

    In the days since, most of the tile-making process has been further mechanized and industrialized, but the foundational techniques of firing clay are still very much the same, as you’ll see in the video below: